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March 19, 2007

Hybrid Hearing

From: WSIL TV - Carterville,IL,USA - Mar 19, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO (Ivanhoe Broadcast News) -- "When I was about 40, I started noticing a plugged up feeling, like I had a cold," says Kathy Barger. But she didn't have a cold. She actually had a hereditary disease that was causing her to go deaf.

"I couldn't quite hear as distinctly as before," Barger says. A hearing aid didn't work, and more bad news was on the way. She didn't quality for a cochlear implant.

About 28 million Americans are hard of hearing. Many of them have trouble hearing higher frequencies. Hearing aids don't always help, and devices like cochlear implants are only reserved for the worst cases because they destroy any hearing patients do have.

Barger had too much hearing left to benefit. Then she learned of a new, hybrid version.

Unlike the traditional model, the hybrid cochlear implant only adds high frequencies, so patients can hear distinct sounds, like consonants. The words "sat" and "fat" can both sound like "ahhh." The hybrid implant allows patients to tell the difference between "Ss" and "Fs."

"It was like, 'Whoa, I heard that!' Barger says. "It's sort of shocking because you're used to not hearing, and all of a sudden, it's 'Gee, I can understand that.'"

Doctors implant the hybrid cochlear implant in the inner ear to stimulate auditory nerves.

"I consider my job, putting in the implant, the easiest part of the whole procedure. The real work, the heavy lifting, comes after the fact," Ear surgeon Lawrence Lustig, M.D., of University of California, San Francisco, tells Ivanhoe.

Barger must work for months to re-learn how to hear, but she says it's well worth the hard work!

The device is currently being tested in clinical trials. If it gets FDA approval, an estimated 50,000 people could benefit from it. That's twice the number of people who have a traditional cochlear implant. Doctors say the device may be especially helpful for older people who lose their hearing. They, too, have trouble with high frequencies.

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If you would like more information, please contact:

UCSF Douglas Grant Cochlear Implant Center
San Francisco, CA 94143

© 2007 WSIL TV.